Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Victorian Era Plea for Civic Etiquette


Never did Egyptian war chariot rush upon the foe more desperately than these fellows upon their victims; and the suave qui peut (every man for himself) is the constant alarm.
It would be pleasant to have a few questions of civic etiquette settled definitely; and when settled, sanctioned by some legal means to make them obligatory. Thus the side of the pavé to which the pedestrian is entitled and is currently understood to be at his right hand. Gentlemen --by which for the nonce we mean men of ordinary tact and manners -- conform to this understanding, and give the pas to the passer. But boors and brutes, whether in broadcloth or satinet, are recusants; and they unfortunately are the very men, to avoid whom such regulations more especially exist. Is there no way of giving a prescriptive right a legal form? If a quiet, inoffensive personage, pursuing his ideas and his solitary path dinnerwards at the extreme right of the walk, and confiding in that fact to save him from concussion, is deliberately rundown and prostrated buy some overgrown scoundrel, is he to have no other amend than the -- 'D**n your eyes! Why don't you mind how you go!' of the trespasser? Might not the ability to call a policeman -- supposing, (and we admit the violence of the assumption,) such a character to be within vocal range -- help to prevent these frequent acts of rudeness? Grievous, indeed, it is to see, as we are at times obliged to, delicate women run down and half annihilated by some wanton wanderer from 'his own side.' 
It strikes us that a treaty should once be entered into between equestrian and pedestrian to prevent these contre-temps.
Then again at the crossings. Upon what principal did the decisions upon cases arising thereabouts hinge? It is, perhaps, natural and just that the tide of unmounted mortals should be dammed, while a tide of vehicles is passing the street. It is no more than a reasonable act of forbearance. The unrestricted freedom of trade, and a desire to encourage commerce, would oblige us to yield where a train of loaded carts is fairly under weigh. But we have no right to demand some trifling consideration in return? Why is it that drivers of car and hack and milk-wagon charge relentlessly upon the "unprotected female," the confused crowd, or the abstracted philosopher, creating, at each street corner, daily astounding miracles in the way of escapes? Never did Egyptian war chariot rush upon the foe more desperately than these fellows upon their victims; and the suave qui peut is the constant alarm. It is all very well for agile people, lithe man and brisk young folk, to be thus stirred up to unwonted exercise; but who can look on tender women or tottering sires fearfully frightened, and well-nigh ground into the cobble-stones, by these knights of the lash, without experiencing a glow of virtuous indignation? It strikes us that a treaty should once be entered into between equestrian and pedestrian to prevent these contre-temps. The law of etiquette should be solemnly determined, and a penalty should be annexed to violation, with competent authority in the hands of somebody to enforce it. The right of might is the present rule, and requires modification.

Originally printed in the August 31, 1852 New York Times